WASHINGTON - APRIL 28: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the Montreal Canadiens celebrates as Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates away following the Canadiens 2-1 win in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Verizon Center on April 28, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Immediately after the Montreal Canadiens eliminated Washington, recrimination began.  Given the way NHL reporting works, it was inevitable that Alexander Ovechkin – the same guy who scored five goals and added five assists in the seven games against Montreal – would pick up some of that flack.  And, given the way NHL reporting works, it was also inevitable that some of that flack would come via the Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby spectrum.

Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun wrote that Washington’s loss had ended the 1/1A relationship between the two players, and that Crosby was now number one and Ovechkin clearly number two.  He also explained that, despite gaudy totals, character was the difference between the two:

For Ovechkin to get back into the race that matters — the one for the Cup — he can’t continue to have year after year of heartbreaking endings. This is three straight Game 7 home defeats for his Capitals. Some of that — how much, you can debate — has to fall on him. Yes, he has 20 goals in 28 playoff games, and those are crazy numbers. But there is that fine line between individual performance and making your team better.

Ovechkin, the older of the two, appears less mature than Crosby, less grounded, more individualistic. His way of bringing his team back is to take a two-minute shift and do it himself. That may work in February in Tampa but it hasn’t worked in April in Washington.

I wonder, now that Crosby’s Penguins have suffered the same seven game defeat at the hands of those Canadiens, if Simmons finds his opinion of those two players shifting a little bit, particularly since Ovechkin’s performance against those Canadiens was superior to Crosby’s while the team results were the same.

Game by game, here’s how the NHL’s two premiere talents compared.  First, Ovechkin’s performance:

Game Result Goals Assists Points +/- TOI Shots
One Loss 0 0 0 0 26:26 0
Two Win 1 3 4 3 20:22 6
Three Win 1 0 1 1 19:51 1
Four Win 2 1 3 3 21:10 3
Five Loss 1 0 1 -1 24:47 6
Six Loss 0 0 0 -1 25:34 8
Seven Loss 0 1 1 0 23:35 10
Totals 3-4 5 5 10 5 Avg. 23:06 34

 

Compare that with Crosby’s performance:

Game Result Goals Assists Points +/- TOI Shots
One Win 0 2 2 1 21:08 1
Two Loss 0 0 0 -2 24:30 1
Three Win 0 0 0 1 22:17 1
Four Win 0 1 1 0 22:15 5
Five Loss 0 0 0 0 20:33 1
Six Loss 1 1 2 1 26:10 3
Seven Loss 0 0 0 -2 28:56 5
Totals 3-4 1 4 5 -1 Avg. 23:41 17

 

With less ice-time, Ovechkin scored four more goals, doubled Crosby’s point totals, and finished six higher on the plus/minus scale, and fired twice as many shots at Jaroslav Halak.

Of course, that performance doesn’t make Ovechkin a better player than Crosby, any more than a Penguins victory over the Canadiens would have marked Crosby as a superior player.  In the latter case, we’d be judging individuals by the actions of their teams – hanging the plays of 20 or so other players on the shoulders of one guy, and extrapolating that one player’s character by those actions.  It’s an idiotic notion.  In the former case, we’re judging two of the best players in the game on their actions over a very short period of time – games totalling less than nine percent of the regular season.

The fact is that they’re two phenomenal players, and despite completely different styles their on-ice impact is highly comparable.  And as much as some columnists would like to reduce the comparison to ‘who has more cups?’ that question is a cop out.  The reality is much more complex, and deserves a more nuanced approach. 

And I’m not the only one picking on this theme; Bruce Arthur’s column for the National Post is worth a read.

Comments (19)

  1. While I don’t necessarily disagree (that Simmons column was predictably awful), after a certain point Ovie’s inability to contribute to his team closing playoff series has to become an issue. The only series the Caps have won in the past three years was against a Rangers team that was imploding, whereas the Pens have won eight. While that’s largely a team stat, it’s so grossly tilted in Crosby’s favour that it’s hard to not draw an implication, if not a conclusion.

    That said, Ovie’s Game 2 performance was by far the best game these two played against the Habs. Hell, I’d argue that he played better against Montreal in Game 5, although thanks to Halak that’s not reflected in any statistics.

    Those ten shots in Game 7 were largely quiet chances, though, with the exception of the puck that got through Halak and rolled wide just before the insurance goal.

  2. Hey JW. Make sure Gregor gets to see this. He’s pretty quiet about his whole “Crosby is better than Ovechkin” argument now.

  3. Maybe it’s OK to draft a really great winger after all?

  4. i really have to think dan balysma is in the hot seat. I mean the penguins were aweful last night regardless of how there goaltender played. The only player that seemed to want to play playoff hockey last night was jordan staal and pitsburgh’s 4th line after that it was crosby and malkin showing off there ballet moves. I mean it really is the coaches job to prepare a gameplan and it was evident pitsburgh had none last night. Your in a game seven situation and you have defenders being lazy and making aweful pinches forwards who were adamint to try and skate through centre ice instead of dumping it in and a whole team that just got way too frusterated. I think if your a pens fans you have to be hugely dissapointed with the whole teams effort level last night and lack of any sort of gameplan.

  5. and i didnt even mention the two dreadful too many men on the ice penalties. I mean its a game seven get your act together…

  6. I think Crosby is better than Ovechkin, but I mean, the argument behind that is a lot more nuanced that Cup rings and Gold medals.

    Meanwhile, Bruce, whose memory is short, thinks that the Pens coach should be canned despite being a disciple of the Win. And who is the ultimate Winner, if not Crosby?

  7. How can anyone declare who is better now? Oh sure Crosby has the ring and the medal to prove it but those are team accolades. Do you think people look at Gretzky and his inability to win a cup without Messier and company as taking away that he was and will almost certainly always be the greatest player of all time. No I highly doubt it if that we’re the case Messier would be considered the better player cause he has two more cups then Gretzky. So to say Crosby is better simply because his management group has done a better job of putting the pieces around him that could win when it matters. Ovechkin has not up to this point has that secondary support of a Malkin, Gonchar or Fleury to win. And they are both still young and have a ton of hockey left in them. The only way to say for sure who is the better player would be to wait till they are both done playing then look at all the totals it’ll be the only way to know for sure.

  8. @ R O

    Wow, I really don’t think you have acquired any sort of reading comprehension from your 11 years of grade school. Please indicate for me where Bruce said the pens coach should be fired? All he said was that the coach deserves some flak for his team playing, somewhat, flat in an important game. Also, the debated between Ovechkin and Crosby hasn’t been about winning, it’s been about who’s better but their resume of winning always gets dragged in. Sure, it is undeniable who has a stronger rep for winning (Crosby) and I admit their history of winning should be apart of the debate but only in a small fraction of the argument. Hockey is a team game after all and no one player can do it alone so it is unfair and ultimately irrelevant when the Crosby supporters turn to the players accomplishments as the be all that ends all in the Ovechkin vs. Crosby debate; the question of who is the better player runs much deeper than that.

  9. The media cant shifting blame to Ovie for Washingtons’ playoff failures in the past and you cant blame him this year for the Caps choking against Montreal. It isnt his fault that their number one goalie(Theodore), imploded, and had to replaced in the middle of game two. It is not his fault that other top players(Green, Semin,Laich,Fleichmann), disapeared, or no showed when the game mattered most. Ovechkin shouldnt keep being the fall guy when a group of individuals dont know how to win and play as a team.

  10. you cause me pain: your name is very apt.

  11. The Arthur article was spot on – Crosby is a great player, no doubt, but he wasn’t a key contributor for either the Cup final or the gold medal. I’m personally not a fan of his game, but he is a very talented player, great skater with excellent hockey intelligence.

    That said, I think he’s led a blessed existence so far in his pro career – getting Malkin as a second banana has to be at the top of the list. Arguably, it’s as if a Messier got a Gretzky for a sidekick . And to have the Gold medal goal land on your stick, after a more or less ordinary Olympic performance is also very lucky. I watched the whole Olympics and I don’t think you could even grade him amongst the top 6 players on the ice.

    With Crosby, it seem like the inverse of Ovechkin – where the Caps failures are a referendum on aspects of his game that people don’t like, the Pens accomplishments are more evidence of Crosby’s personal brilliance and leadership.

  12. The Arthur article was spot on – Crosby is a great player, no doubt, but he wasn’t a key contributor for either the Cup final or the gold medal. I’m personally not a fan of his game, but he is a very talented player, great skater with excellent hockey intelligence.

    That said, I think he’s led a blessed existence so far in his pro career – getting Malkin as a second banana has to be at the top of the list. Arguably, it’s as if a Messier got a Gretzky for a sidekick . And to have the Gold medal goal land on your stick, after a more or less ordinary Olympic performance is also very lucky. I watched the whole Olympics and I don’t think you could even grade him amongst the top 6 players on the ice.

    What?

    Crosby played absurdly tough minutes in the Cup Finals. And was shadowed in the Olys as well.

    Are you seriously making the analogy of Malkin:Crosby to Gretzky:Messier? That is absurd, Malkin is a shadow of the player Crosby is (it couldn’t be more obvious on the ice) much less earning comparisons to Gretzky. If anything, Crosby is the Gretzky in that relationship.

    Jebus.

  13. Comparing either Crosby or Malkin to Gretzky is preposterous, no matter how one looks at things.

    As far as I know we don’t have access to much advanced stats for the Olympics (zone starts, qual comp, corsi/fenwick and such) but Crosby didn’t look like a dominant player at any time during the tournament – certainly not during the gold medal game. Maybe he was shadowed extremely efficiently by the Americans, but against Slovakia and Switzerland?

  14. Ok, RO – you’ve got me on this one.

    Sure, Crosby plays tough offensive minutes, usually on the same line as Malkin as Bylsma’s main coaching strategy is to use them early and often for 2 minute shifts. For sure, no one since Dino Ciccarelli has been better at standing at the side of the net, banging in garbage than Crosby.

    Let’s not forget that he’s an average defender – as far as I’m concerned, that’s where the true ‘ Absurdly Tough Minutes’ are found, for reference see: Zetterberg, Henrik.

    Crosby also faced a depleted Wings team – MVP candidate Datsyuk had a groin pull and broken foot, Lidstrom practically lost a testicle against the ‘Hawks. Let’s say we throw the other MVP finalist Malkin out there at 50% – do they win the Cup? Doubtful……

    And as far as being ‘shadowed’ during the Olympics, I’m sure that their opponents were paying no attention to the the other 4 hall-of-famer’s that he was skating with a any given time. He did have that big 3 assist game against Norway though…….

    I’m sorry though – you’re right – for me to suggest he’s anything less than a Diety is heresy……

  15. James:

    Crosby’s line looked pretty good against Slovakia in the first and second, IIRC he faced a ton of Gaborik and Palffy (at the time I thought they were playing on separate lines but it turns out that Slovak coach loaded ‘em up).

    He didn’t exactly have the most high-flight linemates in the tournament though, I mean Iginla is just a shadow of his former self now. The various experiments (Nash, Bergeron) didn’t last which is a shame.

  16. For sure, no one since Dino Ciccarelli has been better at standing at the side of the net, banging in garbage than Crosby.

    This is just hilarious for its on-ice falseness, you must be a Caps fan. I don’t think there is a player in the game who influences outscoring by his own self more than Crosby.

    Let’s say we throw the other MVP finalist Malkin out there at 50%

    Honestly, Malkin is just not that good a 5on5 player. Or have you not noticed the way the play dies on his stick all the damn time at even strength?

  17. ” I don’t think there is a player in the game who influences outscoring by his own self more than Crosby.”

    I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean – and it’s your own subjective viewpoint. What I do know is statistically Crosby and Malkin are both top 5 in goals against while on the ice, specifically #’s 2 and 5.

    Trying to paint Malkin as some second rate offensive player is ridiculous. Out of 4 seasons, the 2 where he was healthy and played all 82 games he racked up over 100 points. The 5 on 5 argument is bogus – you mean to tell me that Crosby doesn’t thrive on the PP too?

    Actually, I really thought that the stars had aligned again for the Penguins – all the supposedly ‘scary’ teams (Devils and Caps, 10 – 0 regular season against them) had been knocked out and all that was left were a few low seeds. Should be an easy march back into the finals, especially with the ‘best player in the league’ having a career year, and a team that was healthy and experienced. Lo and behold, Scuderi really was ‘the piece’ after all…..

  18. I don’t even know what this is supposed to mean – and it’s your own subjective viewpoint. What I do know is statistically Crosby and Malkin are both top 5 in goals against while on the ice, specifically #’s 2 and 5.

    http://www.mc79hockey.com, search for the recent Ovechkin WOWY post. It’s obvious to anybody with eyes but also by the numbers that Ovechkin is the guy that drives the bus in Washington, in terms of territorial advantage at even strength -> which leads to scoring chances, which leads to goals.

    And who’s trying to paint Malkin as a second rate offensive talent? All he does is put up numbers, the problem is that it’s all in soft icetime (and yeah Crosby’s a PP beast too but head and shoulders above at evens) and Malkin’s ability to actually help his team win games is not nearly as big as his point totals imply.

    I’m too lazy to start with and I don’t indulge fools so I’m not going to do it, but watch that space, because you are going to be unpleasantly eye-opened by Crosby’s WOWY numbers. They are pretty much guaranteed to be head and shoulders above everyone else on the Pens including your beloved Malkin.

  19. From re-watching the Olympic games (god bless EZTV and NHLTorrents), Crosby played very well in a couple of games when he didn’t get much done on the scoresheet. For instance, his line probably should’ve had a couple of goals against Russia, and as noted, they played very well for the first couple of periods against Slovakia until Babcock put the entire team into shutdown mode in the 3rd.

    As noted elsewhere, Drew Doughty may not have had a great statistical Olympics, but he certainly was one of the best Canadians on the ice. Crosby was mostly the same way.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *